This year is our 30th anniversary, and we are considering it to be a year of celebration and discernment. For more than seventeen years we have been working to build a church which can provide a physical home for the worship and service of God and our community. Now that is pretty much complete, and we have a plan for how we will continue to develop our facilities as we have the time, money and inclination. So what next?
It is time for us as we mature as a congregation to focus once more on our ministry and mission. So I am recommending that this year we read together on the book Slow Church. Most of our sermons on the third Sunday of each month will draw from it.
Slow Church takes its name from the Slow Food movement. Slow Food is, of course, a challenge to fast food. Whereas fast food is food which is uniform, often processed and comes from suppliers who have no relationship to where it is sold and eaten, slow food is prepared fresh each time by local chefs using locally sourced ingredients. Here in SLO we know a lot about slow food!
Slow Church is church which is rooted and grounded in the place where it flourishes, church which is responsive to the local community, church which doesn’t follow some get-big-quick franchise but which listens carefully to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Slow church gives us time to do the work of discerning, of pondering together. It gives us time for the deep work of spiritual formation. It provides time for the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and our minds.
I’m going to pass around two samples of coffee – one is from Peru, the other from Guatemala. I doubt if any of us are such coffee connoisseurs that we can tell which is which. But most of us can tell that there is a difference. The difference comes from many things, like the soil, the rainfall, the amount of shade the coffee plants receive, how old the beans are when they’re picked and of course, how they’re roasted.
Coffee is like tea, or wine… where it’s grown makes a difference. Church is like that too.
The Episcopal tradition grew out of the Church of England which in turn grew from the Roman Catholic church adapted to the English temperament with a bit of Celtic Christianity and a large dose of continental Protestantism. In the process it became a Reformed Catholic church. But then it was taken overseas by traders and missionaries and wherever it went it became something a little different. Until now the Anglican churches in different countries sometimes have some very different views and ideas about what it means to be Christian and what it means to be Anglican. Even here in the United States there’s a wide range of ideas and emphases.
This is nothing new. There is no pure Christianity from which all others grew… everywhere the church has been planted, local variations have developed.
God loves diversity. No two of us are the same, why should any two churches be the same?
“The way God has chosen to redeem the world is place by place, gathering communities that together seek the common good, the redemption, the shalom of particular places.” When Paul writes his letters to the new churches each one is different, because the issues each church faces are a little different. Even if Paul had had some pre-designed program that he had used in each church that he founded in order to ensure consistency of product, each one would still have developed differently because it was different people experiencing God in a different place and different things happened. As he says in the reading today from 1 Corinthians, “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.”
Each builder must choose with care. There is no predetermined plan for all churches. As we continue to build this one, we must build with care.
If we make coffee from those two samples they will taste different. The Coffee Review tells me
The highlands of Guatemala produce several of the world’s finest and most distinctive coffees. The mountain basin surrounding the austerely beautiful colonial city Guatemala Antigua produces the most distinguished of these highland coffees: Guatemala Antigua, a coffee that combines complex nuance (smoke, spice, flowers, occasionally chocolate) with acidity ranging from gently bright to austerely powerful…. Other Guatemala coffees, perhaps because they are more exposed to wet ocean weather than the mountain-protected Antigua basin, tend to display slightly softer, often less powerful, but equally complexly nuanced profiles.
On the other hand, Peruvian coffee is
generally a mildly acid coffee, light-bodied but flavorful and aromatic, [which] is considered a good blender owing to its pleasant but understated character. Peru also is widely used in dark roast blends and as a base for flavored coffees. But the best Peru coffees are subtly exceptional: light and levitating with a vanilla-nut-toned sweetness that deserves appreciation as a distinctive specialty origin.
So there you have it!
Now, what is the special taste that is St. Benedict’s? Do we combine complex nuance with acidity ranging from gently bright to austerely powerful or are we light-bodied but flavorful and aromatic?
I’m going to invite you, in pairs or small groups, to answer two questions:
- What things – eg people, practices, convictions – define this church and give it its distinctive taste?
- What brings the greatest joy to this congregation? Which celebrations do we most look forward to?
For me, one of the things that gives us our special taste is our interest in theology. When I first joined St Benedict’s in 1992, I met with the then vicar, Judy Stephens. I asked her what her approach to theology was. She responded, “Post-modern”. That was a conversation stopper as I had no idea what that meant!
St Benedict’s has always enjoyed a good conversation about God and we are on the forefront of the church in seeking to find new ways to interpret the tradition, ways which will speak not only to us but to younger people too.
So I cannot just step over this morning’s gospel reading without making a comment. Jesus says, “Do not resist an evildoer.” Yet his whole life and death was about resisting evil. This passage is not about being passive –it’s actually about non-violent resistance. If someone hits you on the right cheek and you turn the other one then they have to use the palm of their hand to hit you again. In the culture of the time this would have made the aggressor into a peer, someone of equal social status with the one being hit. So Jesus is not advocating passivity but creative resistance. If someone forces you to walk a mile, then go the extra mile – it ceases to be about their power over you and becomes about your free will.
One of the important tastes of St Benedict’s for me is our (slow) exploration of non-violence as a way of life and as a way of understanding the atonement. We are learning not to be judgmental; we are learning to pray for our enemies and those with whom we disagree. And we are determined not to give into the dominant culture but to continue to seek the Christ in all persons, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
Coffee has to go through a long process from the plant to my cup. It has to be picked, transported, roasted, ground. That’s what we do in Slow Church – we allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever it takes to bring us from our sinful selves to be the sacred food and drink which brings sustenance to Los Osos.
 Slow Church – Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Smith and Pattison, IVP 2014
 Slow Church p.42